In an article from Science News, August 15, 2011 entitled Inflexibility May Give Pupils With Autism Problems In Multitasking which discussed primarily deficiencies, namely, how students with autism stick rigidly to tasks in the order they are given to them. According to the research, the students had difficulty with ‘prospective memory’ or remembering to carry out their intentions, thus it was concluded that this attributed to the challenges they face. My mind immediately shifted to what I have observed in schools and which brought me to share a few techniques that may enhance memory and multi-tasking with Autism students. One of the most important aspects of teaching a student who has Autism is the idea of what is going on in their world and how to multi-tasking in order to focus on a variety of tasks throughout the day.
The zone of proximal development, often abbreviated as ZPD, is the difference between what a learner can do without help and what he or she can do with help. It is a concept introduced, yet not fully developed, by Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934) during the last ten years of his life. How do we integrate a student’s memory and intellectual reasoning as an intricate component to learning? How does a teacher assess students within their zone of proximal development, everyday, which is the difference between what students know and what students may still need to learn to fully synthesize and process.
Generally speaking, in teaching, both students with special needs and/or typically developing students, bottom line, you are working with memory interplay. Most of us wonder, why information cannot be retained in a child’s working memory? There is a lot of information written about involuntary memory, also known as involuntary explicit memory, involuntary conscious memory, involuntary aware memory and most commonly. Last, involuntary autobiographical memory is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effect. This happens a lot with students who have Autism, which is one of the reasons why teachers are simply not sure what to do behaviorally to meet the needs. Basically, kids come to school absorbed with information that is in their brains, and emotions attached to memories that affect learning.
Students with Autism are affected even more so, because of their intricate sensory processes, which limits social expression that make it difficult to understand or piece together the root of the memory being expressed so oddly. When in reality, those fragmented expressions should be closely noted, with attention to the student’s zone. It is necessary that teachers are aware of a students’ zone of proximal development with regard to assessment and learning.
The two strategies affecting discussed “Stop & Start” & “Keep The Channels Centered” will help students with Autism, and may not be limited to just those students.
“Stop & Start” is a strategy in order to weed through unnecessary processing in the Autism brain. It is a process used in teaching to help de-scramble to balance sensory processing, while removing unknown anxieties; worries of the ‘unknown’ that clog the schema and prevent processing new information. For example: Let’s say that a student has a reading comprehension activity, some math work, a writing activity, and a science project to complete by next week. With this approach, the objectives have been explained and the deadline given, and by allowing students to complete their work at their own pace and without strict adherence to the schedule, then you will be amazed at the accomplishments and outcomes. Introducing a strategic time into your classroom to allow students to work on a variety of subjects at their own pace, multi-tasking, takes the stress off, and “de-scrambles” the mind so that new information can be easily absorbed.
A “stop & start” approach does not necessarily mean that a student can decide to do whatever they “feel” like throughout the day. A “stop & start” approach, within a given timeframe, requires student accountability, high expectations, and time management. This strategy, if used properly, requires careful attention to the consistency and the use of the strategy (task analysis data) and it must be taught throughout the process. Hence, in a “stop & start” approach, if science is at the end of the day, and language arts at the beginning, allows for flexibility in the schedule for tasks and certain projects to be completed in reverse. Maximize student interest with the use of a “work-box” or “individual portfolio,” in order to afford opportunities for students to trigger memory and intellectual reasoning to allow enough time to absorb the content. Conversely, this opportunity to multi-tasks by allowing students to stop working on certain tasks, and start working on self-selected tasks can be easily implemented in an inclusive classroom setting, because of the need to maintain the structure and a predictable schedule; however, altering a portion of the day for implementation of a “stop & start” approach strategy can be managed.
Specifically for students with Autism, with a “stop & start” the key is to combine into the lesson, which is not an easy thing for a teacher to do, the end result (beginning, middle, and end expectations. So, create an outline, with study guides for the test at the onset of every lesson goal and objective that you have for that student. In other words, hold the student accountable for the information and the outcome prior to teaching the lesson, and with a “stop & start” flexibility approach it certainly does not give cause or any reason to hold and release information at any given rate. Students “twice-gifted” cannot sit through a repetitious verbal lesson that demands expressive language in a question/answer session moving at the teachers pace. Most of these students are capable of processing and learning much quicker than the teacher realizes. Independent “stop & start” motivates and challenges students to reach higher order thinking skills without time restrictions.
Keep the Channels Centered – students need to be taught how to control their mind, and/or private thoughts from distractions. Special needs students with Autism require a sensory re-adjustment or “white-noise” to clear the mind. A quick resource is the “de-fuze” tool that removes the lint from sweaters. It makes the sound needed to de-scramble and re-focus. How do you introduce this little secret? Tell students that you are using this tool to help them stay focused while answering your questions. Turn it on, and allow students to use it when reading. Some students learn how to re-focus, but others need a little help tuning-out distractions.
Another strategy to keep the channels centered, or re-focused, is to instruct students with Autism to “read for word process.” A child who has Autism tends to keep their radar turned on at all times; however, one way to change the channel is a simple technique that helps clear the mind and bring the student back to their center, in their mind, and ready to learn. How to implement reading for word process? Provide some information, literature, or directions on how to fix something – choosing reading materials is important. You can choose something that is aligned with the curriculum, or a concept that may be a higher-level concept. Reading for word process is simply reading the material, word by word, but not thinking about what you are reading. Reading for word process, is a manner of just processing the words in your mind, without worrying about reading for comprehension, and the use of headphones is helpful if there are verbal distractions. The idea is to read the words, while breaking from an activity, and return quickly re-focused, a bit more balanced and centered in the mind. Tell students that it does not matter if they understand what the material is about, but that all you are asking them to do is to read each word and not think about anything else, until they get to the end. I suggest using this strategy while taking a break, instead of just taking a break without focusing on anything. Again, finesse and flexibility in your schedule and lesson plan for the day are required in order to implement these little techniques.
Frankly, the theoretical concept of the zone of proximal development can be re-iterated in schools and applied to teaching strategies such as stop & start, read for word process, and keep the channels centered. Each day in the classroom, teachers are challenged to work with a students’ memory, while infusing creativity and thought processes in order to generate a spark. Rather, thought processes are instilled in each student, by the teacher, so that the student can independently and with confidence apply critical thinking skills and abilities. I can label these strategies, and attempt to define some of them, but the truth is that teachers implore a special magic everyday in order to reach and teach students!